OJUKWU NEVER REPEATED HIS INSTRUCTIONS - ORDERLY
Sixty-five-year-old Elder Chief Godwin Okeke-Ejim was the Police Orderly to the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu for three years when he was Head of State of Biafra till the day he left the shores of Nigeria to Ivory Coast (now Cote d'Ivoire).
In this exclusive interview with Saturday Sun at his Enugu residence, Elder Ejim confessed that he felt terribly bad on hearing the news of the death of his former boss, saying, 'My father died, my mother died I did not shed tears, but when Ojukwu died, I shed tears.
Elder Ejim, who hails from Ugbawka in Nkanu East Local of Enugu State, was 25 when he started working with Ojukwu. The orderly revealed some intimate aspects of Ojukwu including the fact that the late Ikemba never repeated his instructions.
He also graphically related a day Ojukwu had a brush with death.
Posting to Ojukwu
I served as a police officer and retired in 1978. I came to serve Ojukwu in 1967 till the last day he departed to Ivory Coast in 1970 as his personal and police orderly. I was so close in a way that he trusted me so much. We were seven of us slated. We didn't know why we were called, because in the police force, we had a routine called Daily Order. We go there every evening to pick or know where you may go or about anything at all that might concern you. In the course of that day, we read the Daily Order; we were seven short-listed sergeants and it said we had to prepare for special duties tomorrow morning and to report to Commissioner of Police's office by 8 o'clock. The Commissioner of Police of the Eastern Region then was P. I. Okeke, now late. When we assembled, seven of us that day, around 10 o'clock, the Commissioner of Police arrived and addressed us. He said: 'Well, I'm tired of sending orderlies to Col. Ojukwu. Each time, none serves up to one month to three months before he comes back for one accusation or the other', that now, he was taking all of us to go and see him in his office at the State House. Whoever he picks, it's his luck because this was a man that when his name is mentioned, you begin to shiver.
We were driven to that place from the Police Headquarters, Enugu to what is now the Orthopedic Hospital where we had the State House. We got to that place around 11a.m. Ojukwu arrived. We were marched before him as he sat down and when we lined up, they introduced us and he looked from left to right and immediately he pointed at me and said, 'You, come out, the rest can go'. That was the verdict. Every other person left in jubilation. I didn't know how I felt, it was a mixed feeling but I thank God. He told the ADC, who was the Major, to tell me what to do. He told me exactly why others left; that I am the 7th person now, that I should look very sharp because I am serving him directly.
From there, the job started. The next thing he did by the time he was retiring by 6pm in the evening was that he gave me one key to the office and said: 'Look, I am having one key to this office and I am giving you one. So, make sure that nothing leaks, make sure that no information leaks from my office and that nothing is being searched for, otherwise…' he nodded. I said that by the grace of God that nothing will go amiss. So, he said okay. He didn't even ask me questions about where I come from. We have worked for almost two to three years before one day he asked me: 'Where do you come from, Edwin?' He calls me Edwin instead of Godwin and I said, from Ugboka.
Our movement from Enugu started when Enugu fell. We were the last to move. He likes truth and he likes cleanliness. He told me that whenever he calls me, I should be at least one yard away from him; that he need not be shouting to me. I agreed and I maintained that. Even if he was in a meeting and you know he always stays at the extreme, once I hear him through the signs he made electronically, I will march and go there, greet him and then he will give me the instructions.
It so happened that, throughout my service with him, he trusted me and I maintained it. The instructions made me to deny every other association with everybody even friends. He gave the instruction, I feed from the kitchen; they give me food three times or as much as possible because I wouldn't have time to go to my house to do anything. I prepare, anytime he goes out or has occasion to wear military uniform, I do it because the ordinary squad wouldn't starch it well or do maintaining because this is what I was trained for as a policeman. I maintained my own uniforms. As the war developed, I wouldn't go to war because I was not a war cabinet member but he made sure that every other domestic matter, I take care of them, he instructs me and he never repeats his instructions. He was very strict. He liked me so much that, throughout three years, he never for one day scolded me; he never scolded me at all, having learnt what made others to be brought back. Even as I was there, my promotion ran up to the ASP within the war period. I was promoted. You know, after the war, you have to abandon your old rank and go back.
The man Ojukwu
He was a man who loved work more than anything; that is why, when I got to hear that his eyes were bad, I knew exactly that he overstressed his eyes even though I'm not a doctor. He was always reading, he was writing always, he was always there buried in books. Imagine a man who read in Oxford, obtained a Master's degree and everyday he was there - day and night - holding series of meetings, writing, doing all these and giving out instructions. So, the much I can remember is that we worked very cordially as much as I could and the family members all know me. I know the mother, the father; I got to know him when he died at Nkalagu. That was where he passed on. Maybe he didn't want to be carried overseas because the money was there. I liken Ojukwu to Jesus Christ because he was a man who obtained his degrees from overseas and shunned every other work only to join army and in the army, he proved beyond every reasonable doubt that he liked the job.
He rose very well in rank and because of his love for the Igbo people, he denied himself of everything and later became Head of State of Biafra as mandated by the people then. You can imagine how he ran that war, using everything; I think he might even have used his father's money. But what I'm sure of is that he used every opportunity he had to see that the war progressed, aimed at making his goal to be achieved by establishing the Republic of Biafra. But due to the fact that so many things were against him, it had to be abandoned. You know Jesus came into this world, abandoning the best things God set for Him in heaven only to come and suffer and die for us. So the man, Odumegwu Ojukwu, picked that attribute of Jesus because, with his wealth and his father's wealth, he needed not suffer for us at all. He was as a sacrificial lamb, which people are now realizing. In fact, his actions tended to stabilize Nigeria, otherwise it would have been a different matter. I don't condemn him for the actions taken, otherwise you and I would not have been talking. We would have been decimated long ago.
Close shave with death
I met him when he was just three months old as the administrator of the Eastern Region. Everything was going normal until the Biafran was declared. That time, we never slept again. The moment Biafran nation was declared, there was no rest for him; there was no rest again for anybody serving him. Wherever he was, I will be at the door. I screen anybody entering to see him. You do not enter unless I announce you and before then, I must have searched you and announced you and he said okay, come immediately or give me five minutes to finish up. I took up security at the doorpost before you go to meet him.
We were close to death on one particular day due to aircraft bombing. We would have perished at Madonna, Mbano area because that very day, during the heat of the bombing mission by the Nigerian aircraft, we were there. He was interviewing people and doing his normal duties, suddenly an aircraft zoomed in around 12 noon. When the aircraft came, myself and the security officers zoomed into his office because the canon fires were too close, even the aircraft bombed the Mercedes car with which we arrived. I know exactly that it was targeting us and the car was very close to the office. We pushed him (Ojukwu) down and all of us lay on him as protection but when this aircraft became desperate and the bombing became intense, we remembered there was a temporary bunker. We said, let's go into the bunker and he reluctantly rose up and we walked into the bunker. The moment the last of us entered the bunker, there was darkness everywhere. His table, chairs, books and documents, which were on the table where he was working, all got shattered and burnt. That could have been a calamity. This happened at Madonna near Isieke, Mbano in the present Imo State.
That was the only close shave with death I witnessed by myself and you know that whatever happened to him that time will affect us. I wouldn't have been here with you by now. That was the day I shivered. When we came out, there were so many casualties. I remembered that one European came to our office in the name of offering relief few days before the attack, I suspected him. It was when the aircraft took the first dive; it was so low that I noticed his face. We didn't know that he came to sabotage us and it was less than a week. He was an Egyptian pilot because it was a Russian-made aircraft that could have destroyed us, but we thank God really. That was an incident that was touching.
The next one was when Ugwuta was falling; he (Ojukwu) went there too. I was there and he was at the war front. He taught me how to load HMG. Until water bomb finished our cars there, the cars we took there, we had to retreat. We came back in the night with another car. The man suffered. He took strange actions, which a Head of State wouldn't even take. So, these were the sacrifices he made. It would have been a tragic event for us.
Lessons from Ojukwu
You know, he is not a relation, he is not a friend, and my approach with him was always instructional. You do this, you go there, and so, we have no social contact. He was a man who didn't drink. He takes coffee and by then he was a chain-smoker. 555, that's what he takes. He never tasted alcohol and he wasn't eating too much. He never told me anything that was not instructional or related to my duties. He kept me at a distance and I kept him at a distance, knowing that there were other people ahead of me and his immediate brothers who he could always converse with.
We sojourned longer at Umuahia. We got disorganized. We even ran to Ogwa in now Mbaitoli Local Government of Imo State in the house of Iheanacho. After about a day or two, we moved to Nnewi and that was in January. The last day, all the dignitaries you can think of in this Biafran setup, they all went in and held a meeting. I don't usually stay in their meetings, I can't be there. I will be at the corridor. Eventually, that meeting held for a whole day; from morning till around 1 O'clock in the night. Suddenly, vehicles were set up, heading for Uli Airport. I normally sat in the front to open the door and close it as an orderly. On getting to Uli, it was just like a market, filled with people with a very large plane; Super Consolation, stationed. He entered with most of these dignitaries that went out with him and I realized he was leaving.
Before the door of the aircraft was shut, he sent somebody to the door of the aircraft to say I should come in. I replied to that man to tell him that I didn't know we were leaving here. That, in fact, I cannot enter the plane. If my wife had been around or if I had known that it was a movement of that nature, I would have joined him to fly. That was the last I saw him and that was the end of my service to him. That was also the end of the war. Since then, I was communicating with his brothers and at a certain time; they wanted me to come to Ivory Coast because when they come, they would say they want that honest orderly.
Yes, that's what they branded me honest orderly. They came to my house and said my master wanted me to come to Ivory Coast; that there is a job I will do for him. I told them that my family has expanded and that I can't just be moving like that. They needed me then but I said no because I know it was either to take care of some of his businesses there or things like that.
When he returned around 1983, I went to him. He was happy. He received me and asked me to take lunch with him. When it was announced that that orderly came, he left every other thing, came and embraced me. He said I shouldn't go until I take lunch and I obeyed. You know, he was not a person you visit anyhow without having something serious. He was down-to-earth, he likes you to come but the duty of the work wasn't really giving him the chance to be receiving people anyhow because he was not a man you go to gossip to about anything. He was a very intelligent man. I later became President of the Customary Court; writing and doing other court duties. I saw him when he was at Hill view area this Independence Layout. There was a day he was passing through this area, eventually he stopped at a suya spot. I raced to that place and called him 'master.' He said 'orderly.' He came down and we embraced. People converged and were surprised. After asking about my welfare and family, he bought what he wanted to buy and left. He was a very brave man. When he went into politics, people were skeptical about his involvement in politics. When you have your facts at your fingertips and you know that God is with you, you can go to your enemies' camp and come out. He will tell you the reality; he will tell you exactly what happens.
After Ojukwu's depature
Immediately he left, there was order for me to return to police. I rejoined police and I got resposted like every other person. Along the line in 1970, I was in Lagos where I was posted, I attended an interview on two occasions and I was confronted with 'you served the rebel'. They threw the accusation to me during Board members promotion interview in 1976 because we used to have annual Board Interview. I said how, sir? The then Commissioner of Police said, 'look at your picture with Ojukwu.' I said, 'yes, I served him, sir, but I was there on posting. I did not apply for it.' He said but why didn't you refuse it? I said that if I declined it, I would be declared a saboteur; that was why I had to be there. I didn't apply.
In 1977, they confronted me in Lagos again when I went, 'you are a rebel agent' and I told them I didn't apply. I was on posting by the Commissioner of Police then, later IG. So, there was noting I could do. My situation was defenceless. Immediately after that interview, I planned to leave before I would be dismissed, because there were people who could take action against you. I had to quit the force at least to have a good record that I wasn't dismissed. Till today, I get my pension with the little rank that I held, otherwise by then, I was having more than 15 years to serve and by then I would have risen but today, I thank God, its no longer an issue.
So, that ended my career abruptly. I didn't think of it, there were no consultations. I said why should I be defending one thing, instead of asking me questions on my police duties, why do you then come to blackmail me? I can't defend what is indefensible and I thank God because now, I'm not indebted to anybody. God has blessed my family. I have children and almost all of them are now graduates and they are doing well. It's God who leads. He provided and He makes provisions for my children.
News of his demise
I saw the news of his demise as I was watching CNN. I saw only that Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Biafran leader is dead. The spoon with which I was taking my jollof rice, I didn't know when I dropped it on the ground instead of the table, I dropped it on the ground. I shivered. I felt it to the marrow of my bones. I thought he would have made it. I never expected his death now. I did not; if he had been in Nigeria, maybe but in overseas? No. But I am praying that God never abandons him in His kingdom. When Jesus came, He liberated the oppressed, He gave the blind sight, Ojukwu followed that example, he liberated the oppressed. Igbos are being desecrated, I was there; from time to time, we will go to the airport to receive corpses during the pogrom. He had the mind to carry the people, unshaken for that period of three years. God didn't want him to go beyond this.
So, I thank God for his soul because God will not abandon him because His ways are not our ways, His plans are not our plans, His thoughts are not our thoughts. It's there in the Bible; people might condemn you but God will not do so. God is a powerful God and He gave him the chance to do all these things. He could have been eliminated during the war, but no, he did as a human being, Jesus is a Spirit. I'm only sorry that much time was not given to him so that he would eventually live to see more progress in Nigeria.